Tacoma, WA – Pierce County officials are battling over whether to remove some small Thin Blue Line stickers from the back of Pierce County transit police vehicles.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) is contracted to provide law enforcement for Pierce Transit and deputies assigned to patrol and respond to the transit system have specially-marked vehicles, KOMO reported.
Three of the sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles marked for Pierce Transit have Thin Blue Line stickers affixed in the corners of their rear windows.
A community member was offended by the stickers and complained about it to transit officials in January, KOMO reported.
Records obtained by KNKX showed that Pierce Transit CEO Sue Dreier called Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer on Jan. 19 and complained about the stickers, just one day after she received the citizen’s complaint.
The complaint sent to the agency incorrectly labeled the Thin Blue Line “a symbol of intimidation and anti-blackness.”
In fact, the Thin Blue Line flag has been used for about 75 years to honor police officers who have died in the line of duty. In more recent years, the Thin Blue Line flag has been flown to show support for members of law enforcement.
Sheriff Troyer didn’t do anything about Dreier’s request after the call, KNKX reported.
So she and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards co-signed a letter to Sheriff Troyer about a month later.
“These symbols have become polarizing and divisive, especially to people of color,” the letter read.
The letter pointed out that Tacoma police had removed Thin Blue Line flags from its vehicles last summer so they didn’t offend anybody and suggested PCSD follow that department’s lead, KNKX reported.
“We encourage the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to follow the lead of the Tacoma Police Department and find an alternative to the symbol,” the letter continued. “We feel strongly this request represents the reality for many of our customers.”
When Sheriff Troyer finally replied two months after the initial complaint, he denied the request to remove the stickers, KNKX reported.
The sheriff explained in a letter the correct interpretation of the Thin Blue Line image and its meaning to his deputies.
“We must continue to educate the community on the true meaning of the image,” Sheriff Troyer wrote. “It is time to start listening and understanding. It is time to mend the seam, and for all of us as leaders to hold together our community as we confront the challenges that divide us and look to a better future.”
His refusal to remove the stickers infuriated transit officials, KNKX reported.
Pierce County pays PCSD $3.5 million a year for their services and said they thought they should have discretion over whether their brand carried a Thin Blue Line flag.
“I am guessing as the customer, if we don’t want them on the vehicles they should come off,” Pierce Transit COO Mike Griffus wrote in an email to PCSD’s Jim Kelly, who serves as the public safety chief for Pierce Transit.
Days after Sheriff Troyer denied Pierce Transit’s request to remove the stickers, he found himself under attack from multiple directions, KNKX reported.
On Jan. 27, the sheriff followed a newspaper carrier he found suspicious through his Tacoma neighborhood and an altercation followed that led him to call 911.
The police report said Sheriff Troyer told the 911 dispatcher the man had threatened him but then an officer on the scene said the sheriff said the man had not threatened him, KNKX reported.
Nobody was hurt and nobody was arrested during the incident.
But the newspaper delivery man was black and some critics have tried to make it a racial issue.
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett referred the matter to Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim for consideration of a criminal investigation on April 5, KNKX reported.
“To the extent there is ever any need for a county prosecutor to review this case or to arrange for further criminal investigation, I request that you serve as prosecutor due to my obvious conflict of interest,” Robnett wrote.
On April 30, Washington Governor Jay Inslee opened an investigation into the incident and complained that local officials hadn’t taken action, KNKX reported.
“The initial reports of these events were very concerning to me, and I had hoped to see some action taken to initiate a criminal investigation at the local level,” Inslee said in a statement. “But, to my knowledge, that has not happened almost three months after the incident. So now the state is stepping in.”
Washington Attorney General’ Bob Ferguson announced his office was investigating the sheriff in connection with possible crimes committed during that altercation in January, KNKX reported.
The Pierce County Council has asked former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran to conduct an independent investigation of Sheriff Troyer and the incident.
The council asked Moran to examine whether the sheriff had misused his authority, committed a crime, or deviated from professional standards, including honesty, KNKX reported.
Moran was also directed to investigate whether Sheriff Troyer has a pattern of misconduct.
However, it’s not known what the county council planned to do with the findings of the investigation because the sheriff is an elected position and does not report to them, KNKX reported.
Sheriff Troyer released a statement in response to the announcement of the investigation.
“Just like with the local investigation being conducted by the Pierce County Council, I welcome any and all inquiries into the event that occurred on January 27th,” the statement read. “I and the department will fully cooperate with the investigation and look forward to it being done.”